Arsene Wenger’s relationship with Chelsea has been, at times, tumultuous. It was, after all, Jose Mourinho who coined the ‘specialist in failure’ tag that stuck. In Wenger’s own words, it was Chelsea and their rise under Roman Abramovich, artificially inflated by his oil billions flowing straight from Russia, that left Arsenal trailing behind for over a decade.
This hasn’t stopped the odd tentative mention of Wenger’s name in relation to the Chelsea manager’s job, though. As things stand, it seems unlikely that Maurizio Sarri will last until the end of the season. There are reports that he could be sacked as early as next week should Chelsea suffer defeat to Manchester City in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final. There could soon be a vacancy.
The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc and even Brendan Rodgers are said to be on the Blues’ radar, but Chelsea are a club who have more than once made an interim appointment. Roberto Di Matteo took over following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. Rafael Benitez was then an interim appointment after Di Matteo’s exit, with Guus Hiddink bridging the gap between the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell as Chelsea manager and Antonio Conte’s arrival in the summer of 2016. That trend could continue should Sarri be sacked.
If this happens as many expect, Chelsea could do worse than turning to Wenger as a stop-gap option. That might seem a farfetched proposition given the history between the Stamford Bridge outfit and the former Arsenal boss, but similar sentiment did nothing to stop Benitez taking charge at Chelsea.
Wenger, of course, is out of work having left Arsenal at the end of last season and has been speaking recently of his desire to get back into management. “I am enjoying a little bit less pressure, and more freedom as well, but I miss the competition,” he confessed just last week, adding that he is waiting for the right opportunity.
Chelsea might not be the right opportunity per se, in that Wenger wouldn’t get the chance to put his stamp on a squad that would only be his for a short period of time, but it would undoubtedly be an opportunity for the Frenchman to show he still belongs at the top of the sport. If Wenger still feels he has some unfinished business in the Premier League, this would be a shot for him to change the narrative.
In his latter years at Arsenal, Wenger was criticised for being too soft on a group of players that needed more tactical guidance. But Chelsea are a team who looked weighed down by the instructions laden on them by Sarri. The Italian has also been very public in his questioning of his squad’s mindset.
Wenger might liberate them in the same way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has at Manchester United.
The rivalry between Arsenal and Chelsea is fierce, but there has been footballing traffic between the two sides in recent years. Look at how Olivier Giroud made the move from North London to Stamford Bridge last year. Petr Cech headed in the opposite direction two years previously, with other players to have played for both clubs including William Gallas, Yossi Benayoun, Lassana Diarra and of course, Ashley Cole.
There would be a disconnect between Chelsea’s deep-rooted identity as a club of footballing conservatism and Wenger’s identity as an attack-minded coach. However, Chelsea want to leave behind the dour way of Mourinho and Conte eras and the interim appointment of Wenger would allow them to bridge the gap between the authoritarianism of Sarri and a new long-term appointment in the summer.
Chelsea and Wenger would be an odd couple, but there’s reason to believe the relationship would work. The Frenchman might not want to cross his fans at the Emirates, but given how they treated him in the last few years of his tenure what does he owe them? Wenger has a point to prove and he can do that at Chelsea. And for Chelsea, the former Arsenal boss might be the one to get them out of trouble.